Despite lower numbers of firefighters, and the threat of further reductions brought about by budget cuts, the New York City Fire Department made significant progress in protecting the public in 2010. NY1’s Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Between January and the end of November of 2010, 56 people died from fire-related incidents, including a blaze that killed five Guatemalan immigrants in Brooklyn.
Despite these fatalities, the department is on its way to recording a record-low number of fire deaths.
Out of uniform, another kind of response grabbed the headline this year. On January 29, firefighters from Engine 310 Ladder 174 were involved in a brawl at the Salty Dog, a Bay Ridge bar with a firehouse theme.
As many as 11 active and retired members were initially believed to be involved. Witnesses say a spilled drink ignited the fight, though it remains unclear who's behind the first punch.
Surveillance video captured the entire thing – and the tape's handed over to investigators.
Ryan Warnock, a one-time Medal of Valor winner, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.
“I do not believe that there is any action by Mr. Warnock on that video,” said Warnock’s lawyer, Christopher Renfroe.
Six civilians plan to sue Warnock and the New York City Fire Department.
In the spring, budget cuts threatened to close the overnight tour at 20 fire companies. Initially the tours were saved by the City Council but they were put back on the chopping block in the fall
The FDNY hasn't said which companies it plans to close next year.
“I'm given a budget to run and I come up with the way we're going to cut,” said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. “So this is my idea. If I can come up with other ways to do it, I will – such as a fee for accidents, which has caused a furor.”
A proposed fee when FDNY vehicles respond to car accidents has drawn major backlash.
The FDNY also proposed removing a fifth firefighter in 60 engine companies starting February 1 to save money, an idea the union says is unsafe and irresponsible.
This all comes as the department is already more than 300 members short, and unable to hire new firefighters because of a judge's ruling preventing it from doing so.
A 2007 entrance exam and two others before it were thrown out because Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis said it discriminated against blacks and Hispanics. No firefighters have been hired since, and the city can only hire candidates from the invalidated test if the court signs off on the method used.
An age extension has also been introduced to change the maximum age for applicants from 29 to 35.
“That's like saying that what we did and the preparation that we did and to get the results that we got doesn't matter,” said FDNY candidate Ahyende Sandy.
The city cannot appeal the ruling until the judge decides how to remedy the problem, and it’s not clear when that will happen.